As pundits and politicians attempt to make sense of the radicalism on the extreme right of the Republican Party, it might be worthwhile to recall America’s long history with extreme views. Perhaps the one true thing to remember about radicalism is that because of radical thoughts, actions, and sacrifices, these United States came into being. Yet, almost immediately (the ink on the Constitution quite possibly remained wet) radicalism’s remnants challenged the system. It took the new President, the first Commander in Chief, George Washington, to lead 13,000 militia men to crush the growing Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in 1794. The dichotomy was rich: Pennsylvania farmers (many, veterans of the Revolutionary War) used the same rhetoric left over from the War for Independence. “No taxation without representation” screamed those in 1791-1794 who dared to question the new federal government’s power to levy an excise tax on their whiskey, and upon a people that truly had no representation in Congress as the districts had yet to be formed.

The Whiskey Rebellion, 1791-1794

The Whiskey Rebellion, 1791-1794

The point being, radicalism gave birth to America, and it’s a sort of dominant gene that this country has carried ever since. The Whiskey Rebellion is but one of a long stream of radical thoughts, actions, and sacrifices that riddle our history books like a bad pun that never ends. Our country seems to thrive on rousing denunciations of the status quo. In 1803, New England Federalists concocted our country’s first secessionist movement out of disdain for all things Thomas Jefferson. Barnstorming during the Second Great Awakening raised not only spiritual angst in the burnt-over districts of upstate New York, but provided the fervent breeding grounds for a young man named Joseph Smith to create Mormonism – which in and of itself was deemed so radical, that Mormons were persecuted for the next three decades despite what’s written in the First Amendment. Abolitionists were deemed not only radical, but insane, yet that radicalism caught up with Mr. Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War where – radically – the President delivered emancipation. The Women’s Rights movement buoyed by the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention was once considered radical, as too was the temperance movement associated with it. Interesting how Prohibition and a woman’s right to vote were made amendments to the Constitution in the same year, 1920. Labor was once considered radical, where mayors, such as Ole Hanson of Seattle habitually called upon police, private cops, national guardsmen, and marines to bash in the heads of those “wobblies” or other labor organizers to deliver them via train, dead or alive, to the Idaho border. Sacco and Vanzetti were quite possibly executed not for the near non-evidence pitted against them in a court of law, but rather for their radical anarchists’ views. Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for communists in Hollywood and the federal government bordered on the uncomfortable, but turned radical when he shone his anti-commie spotlight on the US Army – then fighting the communist menace known as the Soviets as the Cold War began. Civil Rights was considered radical, as too were Chicano rights, Native American Rights, Gay rights, a new feminists’ movement, calls for protection of the environment – and all of this just during the 1950s and 1960s. The idea that America’s manufacturing base, the one that helped this country survive a two-front war during World War Two, could somehow be shipped overseas to where labor is cheap was once considered too radical, but that began to happen in the 1970s and continues on unfettered. The spread of information, both with Ted Turner’s investments in cable television and the rise of the internet (an invention of the US Armed Forces) must be seen as radical. The digitization of music destroyed radio, but perhaps more radically, individualized while simultaneously democratized the music industry allowing for instantaneous countercultures to strike on those of us unaware – just see Miley Cyrus twerking during the MTV Music Awards.

We are a radical people. We breathe radical air. We are a contentious, non-conforming bunch, no matter what Madison Avenue tells you.

So, yes: the Tea Party in America is radical, perhaps even insane. But if American history means anything, then we need to understand that such radicalism does not disappear overnight, it will not destroy itself, such radicalism is amongst us, it will live, and it will have a very long life. It may die, this Tea Party thingy, but not without a fight, and not for a long, long while.

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